Stunning ‘Joker’ Takes Comic Book Films to a Disturbing Level

Preston Romanov, Editor in Chief

If films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are based on shiny comics, then DC’s “Joker” comes from the gritty, grimy pulp comics printed on rough paper.

Driving through the streets of Gotham at night, fires burning, sirens wailing, red lights flashing, and a mob crowding the streets, Joker sits in the back of a Gotham squad car handcuffed, gazing out the window at the violence and madness.

Out of nowhere a speeding car crashes into the squad car, causing it to hit a parked car and flip.

Smoke rises from the wreck. A Joker supporter arrives on scene, exiting the car. Joker lies in the damaged vehicle almost unconscious, hearing sirens in the distance. Rioters lift him from the vehicle, lay his body on the hood of the car and encourage Joker to get up.

Joker slowly rises and sees what he has started. For once, he feels noticed. Dancing on the hood, he smears blood on his face in the form of a smile, taking in the euphoric atmosphere. Joker sees the dream of his life, a city burning in flames.

Many comic books yield some of the most interesting characters written for popular fiction, and yet most of the time they are marketed to children and filled with whimsical special effects.

What has always been wonderful about the Batman lore is that, in fact, most of the graphic novels written in that domain are very bleak, thought-provoking, and bold enough to discuss realistic themes.

“Joker” is a radical, audacious and depressingly dark take on one of pop culture’s greatest villains. 

“Joker” tackles the issue of mental illness, rewrites the origin story from comic books, and throws its character into reality. It creates the debatable narrative that we as a society are at fault for creating ruthless villains.”

The film opens with Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Pheonix), a professional clown with severe mental illness and disengagement issues. We see the effects of economic devastation and poverty on Gotham City, analagous to New York City.

Its gritty cinematic style and uncomfortable characters make for a brilliant film that really enriches the lore it is based on.

Director Todd Phillips offers some creative and superb direction, along with a powerhouse performance from Phoenix. “Joker” presents real filmmaking for the comic book world while recreating the genre in a unique way, giving a raw look into the grief that has struck the nerve and psyche of Fleck.

Trinity senior Walker Evans described the movie: “I felt like it was a unique take on one of the most established characters in fiction. While the script wasn’t the greatest, the cinematography and score kept up a sense of despair and, to a certain extent, uneasiness in the viewer.”

Before its release, “Joker” sparked controversy within the mainstream media after fears of possible gun violence. At the film’s debut at the Venice Film Festival this summer, hype pointed to its intense themes and asked if it was safe for audiences to attend.

Trinity senior Peyton French commented on the controversy: “I feel like it’s in part this belief that we need violence. There was the shooting that occurred at ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ screening that seemed to permanently impact some.

“I know when it occurred, I was afraid to see other movies. I mean today I go to the movies, and I’m like, ‘Okay, the nearest exits are here.’”

Evans said the hype “was a baseless accusation labeled against the movie that led to nothing but wasted time and energy.”

Six weeks into its release it was reported by Forbes that “Joker” is now the most profitable comic book movie of all time. As of Friday, Nov. 15, “Joker” will have grossed more than $316 million in North America, and a staggering $998 million worldwide.

Against a $62.5 million budget, “Joker” is on its way to making a whopping $1 billion at the worldwide box office.

Despite the controversy, people still came out and made this character-study film with a low budget a $billion success. “Joker” also broke the record for the highest grossing R-rated film ever.

“Joker” tackles the issue of mental illness, rewrites the origin story from comic books, and throws its character into reality. It creates the debatable narrative that we as a society are at fault for creating ruthless villains.

Fleck deals with a condition that causes an uncontrollable laugh. Throughout the film he gets laughed at, abused and thrown down by society. This is a Joker film, after all.

It is very much worth seeing for its stunning storytelling, acting and cinematography.  “Joker” may just be an instant cult classic that will be talked about for a very long time.